BAR HARBOR — Internationally-renowned activist and author Naomi Klein urged College of the Atlantic graduates to “make new mistakes” during her keynote speech at the coastal school’s 42nd commencement June 6.

Speaking under a big tent on the school’s north lawn to 77 graduates and hundreds of family members, friends, students and alum, Klein pushed the graduating class to feel empowered, encouraged and enabled to pave new ways in the global struggle against climate change, wealth concentration and racial violence.

Naomi Klein

“We don’t have the right to demand perfection from each other, but we do have the right to expect progress, to demand evolution. So let’s make some new mistakes,” Klein said. “Let’s make new mistakes as we break through our silos and build the kind of hugely diverse and justice-hungry movement that actually has a chance of winning. Winning against the powerful interests that want us to keep failing.”

Even while reviewing some of the planet’s more intractable problems, Klein remained optimistic, telling the crowd that solutions are close at hand. Klein, the New York Times bestselling author of No Logo and This Changes Everything, said that COA graduates are especially prepared for seeing such solutions through.

“The holistic leap we need has never been closer in reach,” Klein said. “We know that the best part of it is that there is no better preparation for that grand, integrated project than your deeply interdisciplinary education in human ecology. You were made for this moment. But that’s not quite right. You somehow knew to make yourself for this moment.”

COA graduation 2

Watching under the big tent

Klein, who was presenting the first commencement speech of her career, was awarded an honorary Master of Philosophy degree by board of trustees chairman Will Thorndike. Also receiving honorary Master degrees were two long-time associates of the college, Robert Kates and Polly Guth.

Several students shared perspectives of their time at COA, including Nimisha Bastedo, of Yellowknife, Canada, Khristian Mendez, of Guatemala City, Guatemala and Eliza Oldach, of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Adrian Fernandez Jauregui, of Sucre, Bolivia, introduced Ms. Klein, while Shira Catlin, of Western Massachusetts, provided welcoming remarks along with COA president Darron Collins.

class of 2015COA senior class 2015

A total of 77 students were awarded degrees in Human Ecology June 6, including 75 Bachelor of Arts and two Master of Philosophy degrees.

Klein encouraged students to feel their strength in numbers, saying that it was time to give up the old mistake of believing that in the face of big, international challenges all one can do is act very small. Because, she said, the hard truth is that one’s actions alone cannot change the world. Only through joining together can separate individuals make a difference, she said.

“That very idea, that we as atomized individuals, even groups of atomized individuals, could play a significant part in stabilizing the planet’s climate system, is objectively nuts,” Klein said. “We can only meet this tremendous challenge together as part of a massive and organized global movement.”

klein with [earth]Naomi Klein with members of College of the Atlantic climate justice group Earth in Brackets

College of the Atlantic was founded in 1969 with a mission to enrich theliberal arts tradition through a distinctive educational philosophy — human ecology. A human ecological perspective integrates knowledge from all academic disciplines and from personal experience to investigate — and ultimately improve — the relationships between human beings and their social and natural communities.

The human ecological perspective guides all aspects of education, research, activism, and interactions among the college’s students, faculty, staff, and trustees. The COA community encourages, prepares, and expects students to gain expertise, breadth, values, and practical experience necessary to achieve individual fulfillment and to help solve problems that challenge communities everywhere.